The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) forced the amendment or removal of 8,582 potentially misleading or outright fraudulent financial promotions during 2022, over 14 times more than the 573 interventions it made in 2021, as its use of digital tools and focus on social media influencers.
The FCA said it had made “significant improvements” to the digital tools that it uses to track down problem firms and misleading adverts, and this has enabled it to work through more cases than ever before.
The past 12 months saw a “massive increase” in the use of online bloggers and influencers on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, promoting financial products – particularly investment products – to young people, said the FCA. There is also an ongoing trend in a number of people promoting credit on behalf of unauthorised third parties, particularly targeting students.
It said that these “fin-fluencers” should be careful not to advise people on the merits of certain investments if not authorised, as this would likely make them subject to FCA regulations and could lead to action being taken against them. It acted against several such people in 2022.
The FCA has been working closely with many social media platforms to change their advertising policies to only allow promotions approved by firms that it itself has authorised.
“Our expectations remain the same. Financial promotions must be fair, clear and not misleading. What has changed is the FCA’s approach. By drawing on better technology, we’re finding poor quality or misleading ads quicker. And where we find them, we’re stepping in to make firms improve them or remove them entirely,” said Sarah Pritchard, FCA executive director of markets.
“'This year, we will continue to put the pressure on people using social media to illegally promote investments, which put people’s hard-earned money at risk,” she said.
In one instance investigated by the FCA, the director of a regulated firm was caught using their personal online profiles to promote the advice of unauthorised traders and other financial products while making no reference to the regulated firm.
This unnamed individual has now been blocked from using personal social media accounts for promotional purposes, while their firm may not now carry out any financial services promotions.
In another case, the FCA revealed how it clamped down on an online retail broker with more than 1.1 million UK customers, primarily Millennials from their late 20s to early 40s. The FCA found significant concerns that the unspecified firm was using influencers to target vulnerable consumers who were already in debt.
It was issued with an s137S financial promotions banning order and has also been invited to apply for a voluntary imposition of requirements (VREQ), which means it ceases all financial promotion activity until the FCA is satisfied it has effective systems and controls in place at all points of its lines of defence.
The FCA’s work in 2022 also saw it take action against firms taking advantage of the cost of living crisis, unregistered crypto exchanges and other unauthorised businesses, and firms that it had previously cancelled that were pretending they were still authorised.
Its online work saw it assess more than 180,000 websites and conduct reviews of 4,500 of them, leading to almost 1,500 alerts, and more than 400 website removals.